An old favorite: Hunan of Solon

Before moving to Cleveland Heights in May 2010 I lived in Solon for eight years. Solon has a lot of chain restaurants, but there are a few independent gems. One of my favorite restaurants there is Hunan of Solon. I would get take-out or eat in the restaurant at least every couple of weeks. So when Groupon offered a deal there last March I jumped at it. It was set to expire soon, so I grabbed a friend and took a night off from my juice fast (more on that another time) to enjoy some much-needed protein.

Hunan of Solon is located in an unassuming strip mall on a dead end street leading to the Solon Regal Cinemas. According to Scene Magazine, it is operated by the same people who run Hunan by the Falls in Chagrin Falls. They won Cleveland Magazine’s 2008 Silver Spoon Award for Best Chinese for their salty prawns. It offers an “eclectic and ambitious menu” including Korean beef rib strips, shrimp tempura, garlic shrimp, Cantonese lobster, basil chicken, moo shu duck, and pad Thai and Thai curries. Their lobster dishes are prepared from fresh live-tanked lobster (word of warning – if you order lobster they simply chop it up and you will have to remove the shells yourself, which can get quite messy and isn’t attractive when dining with others – but most especially on a date!). They also serve bubble tea smoothies. According to Wikipedia, bubble tea contains a tea base mixed with fruit (or fruit syrup) and/or milk. Ice-blended versions of the drinks, similar to slushies, are also available, usually in fruit flavors. I ordered the honey dew bubble tea smoothie, which was rather sweeter than I expected, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I probably would have been better sticking to the green tea bubble tea smoothie.

I dined there with my friend G., who is Chinese American. Once seated, our server quickly greeted us, asking G. if she was Chinese and then bringing her the Chinese menu. In all the times I have eaten here I had no idea they had a separate Chinese menu featuring more authentic dishes for Chinese palates. Looking at the website now I see that the “Authentic Chineses [sic] Menu” is featured there now. Having an Americanized palate and having anticipated the meal for at least a week, I knew exactly what I wanted already so I stuck with my tried and true favorites.

We started off with a cup of wonton soup each. Hunan of Solon is known for their wonton soup. G. even admitted that it was better than her mother’s, which I consider to be high praise seeing as her parents are currently living in Beijing. The broth is flavorful, and the wontons are dense and tasty (I apologize for the reflection off the broth in the photo). We both enjoyed every last drop.

My absolute favorite thing on the Hunan of Solon menu are the spinach pot stickers. I ordered these on a whim one day and did not regret it. After that my meal wasn’t complete without an order of spinach pot stickers. The pot sticker dough has spinach in it, and it is stuffed with a mixture of spinach and cream cheese. The pot stickers are pan fried to have a nice crisp base, but you can still really sink your teeth into these doughly little pillows of heaven. It is served with a dipping sauce that most likely features soy sauce but is not overly salty. If you are a fan of spinach or cream cheese you simply must try them. I guarantee you will order them every time afterward.

I could have been happy with just the soup and the pot stickers, but I was also looking forward to ordering my favorite curry on their menu, the Panang curry. The Panang curry is the mildest of their curries. It is a sweet and spicy dry curry, featuring dried chili peppers, coconut milk, butternut squash, yellow squash, snow pea pods, cherry tomatoes, onions, and green beans. I am not a big fan of heat – in fact I order it mild, a fact I overlooked when I ordered this time. However, it didn’t detract from the meal. I love biting down on the cherry tomato and having it burst with flavor in my mouth. I ordered the seafood curry, which included lobster, scallops and shrimp. I only had to remove lobster shell from one piece of lobster. The seafood was perfectly cooked, and the coconut milk, seafood and vegetables all blended together for a delicious meal that I have missed in the last two years.

G. ordered #50 off the authentic Chinese menu – lamb with cilantro and scallion. She was debating between three things on the menu, and the waiter recommended it. I got to try a bite, and it was very flavorful. She had ordered it with a medium heat, and this dish packed some heat that snuck up on you. The fresh cilantro and scallions complemented the lamb very well.

Without the Groupon our meal came out to $56. G. picked up the tab after the Groupon was deducted, and I plunked down the cash tip. We enjoyed catching up with each other and hearing each others’ plans for the summer. There was no need to dress up for Hunan. The restaurant was populated with young and old and several tables of regulars, including numerous tables of Chinese families enjoying authentic meals. All in all, it was a delightful and relaxed way to spend a St. Patrick’s Day evening.

Contact info:

Hunan of Solon
6050 Enterprise Parkway
Solon, OH 44139
(440) 248-8836

Southern Cookin’ class at Viking Cooking School

I’m a sucker for banana pudding and fried chicken, so signing up for the Southern Cookin’ class at Viking Cooking School in Lyndhurst was a no-brainer for me. Viking Cooking School is located in the Viking Store at Legacy Village, and they offer a variety of fun hands-on cooking classes and chef demonstrations. I have attended 9 hands-on classes there so far, my favorite being the Steak, Roast and Chop class and my least favorite being the Vietnamese Cooking class. I am on a cooking class kick at the moment, so I have attended cooking classes at both The Chubby Cook and Viking recently. This led to some confusion on my part when I showed up for the Southern Cooking class at The Chubby Cook. I realized my mistake when they started passing around edamame, and I apologized and ran out of there to drive to Viking. Luckily they are close to each other, so I was only five minutes late. I had missed the introductions, but quickly grabbed a seat next to my friend A., put on my apron, grabbed a sweet tea and took a deep breath (not necessarily in that order).

Viking always puts out a snack to nibble on while we cook, and the “sample recipe” this time was cheese straws. Not being a big fan of cheese straws I ate one and then concentrated on the recipes at hand. We started out making banana pudding with vanilla wafers, because it needed to set in the refrigerator for a while (at least 1 hour, but preferably up to 4). We whisked the ingredients together, added egg yolks (carefully tempering them into the heated mix), and made a custard. We especially enjoyed pushing in the bananas and vanilla wafers into the serving dish.

Next up were the slow-cooked collard greens, because they needed to cook on the stove for at least 20 to 30 minutes. We cooked the bacon and onions (in A.’s case, because she is Jewish, she cooked the onions in a separate sauce pot and made her very own bacon-free collard greens), washed and chopped the greens, added them to the bacon and onion, added water and let them cook down until tender while we focused on the mashed potatoes and fried chicken.

The mashed potatoes were fairly straight-forward. We cooked and riced the potatoes and mashed them with warm half and half and butter, adding salt and pepper. The interesting technique we learned is that you can make them ahead, wrap them tightly with plastic wrap and keep them in a 200° oven or warming drawer for up to 4 hours. They were still warm once they were served with the gravy later.

I had most anticipated learning how to fry chicken in a Dutch oven. I recently inherited my grandmother’s, so I was anxious to learn how to use it properly. The chicken had been brined in a buttermilk mixture overnight, so all we had to do was heat up the oil in the Dutch oven (checking the temperature constantly with a candy thermometer), coat the chicken in a bag of flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cayenne, paprika and black pepper, and fry it up two pieces at a time. The toughest part about frying the chicken was maintaining a steady heat, because the heat drops once you add the chicken. I was the fry master, learning how to scoop out the little bits that broke loose while frying using a fine-meshed sieve to use later for the gravy. I only burned myself once when A. accidentally singed me with the sieve. The chicken was then put into the oven to finish cooking.

Our instructor Brie then showed us how to make a quick skillet cornbread and sent us out into the store while she and her assistant whipped up some gravy using some leftover oil and crispy chicken bits, cleaned up, and prepped and set the table. Class attendees get 10% off on most items in the store during classes. I used my discount to buy a sieve, a good Viking Santoku knife and a scone pan.

We then came back into the classroom and took our seats for a delicious meal and a glass or two of wine. I wanted a chicken breast, so I had to wait a bit until it wasn’t raw on the inside. I ended up taking another one home for the next day. The food was delicious. There is something about enjoying the fruits of your labor over a glass of wine with friends. No one went home hungry, and I couldn’t wait to go home and try making the banana pudding on my own. It was a very enjoyable and delicious evening.

Contact info:

Viking Cooking School
24703 Cedar Road
Lyndhurst, OH 44124
(216) 381-2100

Babushka’s Kitchen in Independence

in-memoriam-graphicMy dining out group recently ate at Babushka’s Kitchen in Independence. The restaurant in Northfield was closed for renovations at the time, so we decided to check out the newest location in Independence. It is worth mentioning that it is impossible to see from the street. It is tucked in the middle of the Independence Square shopping plaza. Look for the shopping plaza with the Independence water tower on the periphery, and you’ll know you are in the right place. Thank heavens for GPS, because I never would have found it otherwise.

The restaurant is a “casual quick-service style cafe” featuring pierogi, stuffed cabbage, kielbasi, roast pork, dumplings and all those Eastern European favorites. You order at the register in the front of the restaurant, you are given a number, and the kitchen staff brings your order out to you from the kitchen in the back. This isn’t fancy dining by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want comfort food your grandmother (well, okay, *my* Ukrainian grandmother) used to make you will be very pleased.

The pierogi are to die for! They are advertised as jumbo pierogi, and boy are they. The night we were there they had several flavors on offer – potato, potato and cheddar cheese, mushroom and Swiss, and sauerkraut. There was one other flavor, but I don’t remember what it was and I can’t read it on the dry erase board in the photo.

They offer several platters to allow new customers to try a variety of their entrees. The platters come with your choice of one or two side dishes, which include soup, green beans, kraut & noodles, mashed potatoes & gravy (red or brown), and cinnamon applesauce. There may be one or two that I can’t remember. The tables were practically groaning from all the food that was brought out. No one went home hungry – that is for sure!

I chose Grandma Olga’s Favorite, which features two of the jumbo pierogi with grilled onions and sour cream, two side dishes and a slice of rye bread and butter. I also ordered a cabbage roll on the side. It was HUGE! One of these and a side would have completely sufficed. For my side dishes I chose the applesauce and green beans and bacon. The beans were canned not fresh, but I am a huge fan of canned beans and prefer them over fresh (I blame my school lunch indoctrination). The cinnamon apple sauce was perfectly seasoned and was the perfect accompaniment to the heavy entrees. I wasn’t that thrilled with the cabbage roll, but I have high standards. It was simply too sweet for my tastes. I prefer Sokolowski’s cabbage roll because it is more savory than sweet. Other people loved it. I absolutely adored the jumbo pierogi. I chose a mushroom and Swiss and a potato and cheddar. Both were delicious. One of my fellow diners also gave me his side of kraut and dumplings, which was also quite tasty (although the kraut was slightly overcooked). I had so much food that I took most of it home.

I am intrigued by The Warsaw, which is a large potato pancake layered with grilled onions, sliced pork loin, sauerkraut, pork gravy, then topped with another potato pancake and a dollop of sour cream, served with any side dish or cup of chicken noodle soup. I will probably get this next time. No one ordered this that night, but my friend M. ordered a potato pancake as a side (see above photo of the pierogi platter) and several people had the roasted pork with their meal and loved them.

If you can’t decide what to order, I suggest getting the Hunter’s Feast, which features one stuffed cabbage, a link of smoked kielbasa, roasted pork with sauerkraut & dumplings, one jumbo potato & cheese pierogi with grilled onion and sour cream and your choice of two side dishes, or the Gatherer’s Platter (photo above on the beige platter), which features one stuffed cabbage, one jumbo potato & cheddar cheese pierogi with grilled onions & sour cream plus your choice of one side dish. You will be stuffed!

I bought two dozen kolachky, which were just as good (if not better!) than my grandmother used to make, to share among my fellow diners and took the leftover kolachky home. I need to go back for more soon! The kolachky were flaky and melted in our mouths. The only flavor left by the time I bought them was raspberry, but that was fine with me because that happens to be my favorite. Apricot would be a close second.

Contact info:

Babushka’s Kitchen

6531 Brecksville Rd
Independence, OH
(216) 447-9275

9199 Olde 8 Road
Northfield Center, OH
(330) 468-0402

Taste in Cleveland Heights is tasty

I know. It’s a lame and predictable heading for a blog post, but the evening at Taste was simply divine. I met two friends for a spontaneous dinner a while ago (full disclosure: it was December), and we absolutely raved about the evening. We all ordered the prix fixe menu, which features three courses and two glasses of wine (by the glass) for $49. You select an appetizer and an entrée and a dessert from the menu (the choices all sounded so good that it was really to choose!). When you add up the prices individually, the prix fixe menu is an absolute bargain. I’m not a big drinker and I wasn’t in the mood for two glasses of wine that night, so I gave one of my dinner companions my second glass.

I started with the beet salad, which featured roasted red and golden beets accompanied with a salad featuring goat cheese, candied walnuts, sweet balsamic drizzle. I’ve always loved cold beets (my father loves them so I grew up eating them), but even if I didn’t I would be a fan after eating this salad. I loved the pairing of the beets with the sweet balsamic drizzle. The balsamic really complemented the beets. The salad was also tasty, which I attribute to the candied walnuts. I’m a sucker for goat cheese as well, so I couldn’t have been more pleased with my salad.

My second course was a stacked surf & turf entree featuring filet mignon, a portabello mushroom, a tomato slice, and a shrimp with a sherry wine basil sauce. It was a thing to behold – just look at it! As for the taste, well I think I may have actually moaned at the first bite. The filet was perfectly cooked, and the vegetables were tender and not overcooked.

When it came to the dessert I had a very tough time deciding what to order. My friend and I decided to order two different desserts and share them – a chocolate mousse with hazelnut ice cream and a white chocolate and vanilla crème brulee. Both were exceptional and I would be very hard pressed to choose my favorite.

It was the perfect amount of food – not too much and not too little. I also have to say that the service was impeccable from start to finish. We had a lovely table by the window, were quickly greeted by our waitress, and were even visited by either the manager or the owner at some point during our meal. And when I knocked over my ice water they were Johnny on the Spot with extra napkins to wipe away the ice and water (I never claimed to be graceful). We all left very happy campers.

Contact info:

Taste
2317 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
(216) 932-9100

Corks & Cupcakes Emerging Chefs dinner

The latest Emerging Chefs dinner was a Corks & Cupcakes tasting event, capitalizing on the cupcakes craze. The event paired a selection of Italian prosecco, whites, and reds from Tuscany Distributors with divine cupcakes by Lilia Lipps of Indulgence Cakes. This event was held at the Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art in Downtown Cleveland at the corner of W. 9th and Superior Avenue (at the foot of the Detroit-Superior bridge). It was, as promised, “a night of beautiful art, wine and dessert all served with Cleveland flair.”

We started with an amuse bouche course entitled “Lure Me In,” which featured a coconut macaroon with lemon curd and red wine caviar and prosecco (my favorite wine of the night). I’m a huge fan of the bubbly, and this prosecco was light and not too sweet – just how I like it. Most people nibbled on the macaroon and sipped the lemon curd and red wine caviar off the spoon, but I was tacky and poured the lemon curd on the macaroon to enjoy both flavors at once. It was delightful. The coconut macaroon was light and moist, and the lemon curd and red wine caviar was a delicious accompaniment.

The second course was “Take Me on a Picnic.” The cupcake was a cheddar cupcake topped with a candied pecan, honey blue cheese frosting and a crisp cheddar wafer.  I couldn’t really taste the cheddar or the blue cheese, but the honey and candied pecan really shone. My friend M. ate the cheddar wafer separately and said it was deliciously intense. The flavors blended really well together, and the result was a tasty little picnic treat. It paired really well with a Lugana Base white wine, which I enjoyed immensely as well. In fact, I bought two bottles of the prosecco and a bottle of the white at the end of the night.

The third course was “Wine Me, Dine Me…Make Me Sparkle,” which featured a cannoli cupcake and a red wine named Sangue di Giuda (Blood of Judas). The cannoli cupcake is an orange-scented cake with ricotta chocolate chip filling that is dipped in chocolate ganache and topped with almond cream. The cannoli cupcake was deliciously moist and decadent. I’ve recently started to appreciate almond paste and marzipan again after overdosing on it when I lived in Salzburg, Austria for a year back in 1989-1990. The almond flavoring made the cannoli cupcake shine. I will be ordering this one from Indulgence Cakes in the future.

This was also about the time that the service really started slacking. The cupcakes and wine started being served with a time lag, so we could no longer enjoy the wine with the cupcakes. It also seemed as if the servers started deliberately skipping our table, which was in the middle, and serving everyone around us first. Glasses and plates could have been cleared during the lulls between the courses, but instead were cleared by the server when she brought out the cupcake plates. The result was a delay in bringing out the wine and tables that were very cluttered with empty glasses and plates. By the end of the night I was fed up and have to admit I wasn’t very nice about it, but since the servers never cracked a smile I don’t feel too bad about it. As a former server I know how to recognize good and bad service, and no matter what happens you always need to serve with a smile (even if it is insincere). I decided never to attend another stand-up Emerging Chefs event as a result (the lack of chairs didn’t help – by the end of the night my feet and lower back were killing me).

The intermezzo course “Give Me a Break” claimed we would be served sparkling spring water with a sprig of mint and mint julep panna cotta. The mint julep panna cotta was absolutely divine. I had to use the stem of my spoon to enjoy the panna cotta at bottom of the glass. It was so refreshing and delicious that I simply didn’t want to waste any. I was dying of thirst at this point and had been looking forward to the sparkling water and mint. Sadly, we had to accost a waitress to get some water and the water was served with no mint.

The third course was “Butter Me Up, Buttercup,” which featured a salted caramel cupcake and a Pinot Nero Rose. I became a fan of salted caramel thanks to Jeni’s Ice Cream, and this cupcake more than did the flavor justice. The cupcake was moist and caramelly – not to mention beautiful to look at with the crystallized sugar garnish. I’m not a fan of sweet wines (and had had two cocktails at a happy hour at Myxx beforehand), so I stopped drinking the wines at this point. I had a sip of the Pinot Nero Rose and it was good, but I left my half-finished glass on the table.

The final course was the one I had most anticipated – “Marry Me at Breakfast” featuring a decadent dark chocolate and bacon cupcake with an espresso butter cream frosting. I would marry anyone who gave me this cupcake for breakfast! At this point the room had cleared out, so I was able to enjoy two of these bad boys. I will be buying this one again too! It was heavenly – pairing dark chocolate, bacon and espresso. The Giome cabernet-merlot blend was a bit peppery, so when paired with my second cupcake it really made the course shine. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

Overall I enjoyed myself. The cupcakes were delicious, and the gallery setting was very enjoyable. I had a lot of fun chatting with the girls from Scene Magazine, Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland and several other people at our table, including our baker Lilia and her husband and Kimberly of Smitten in Cleveland and her husband.

Frank & Pauly’s is now in Mentor – and is sublime

in-memoriam-graphicFrank and Pauly’s opened its first restaurant in 1993 on Public Square in the BP Building. I remember eating there and being impressed by the food. We ordered several family style entrees that night, and I remember going back to my room at the Ritz Carlton a very happy translator. The restaurant closed shortly after that. It reopened briefly in Independence, and I ate there once with the executive board of my local translators group.

Frank and Pauly’s is now open in Mentor at The Sawyer House, which is on the National Register of Historic places as one of the only Stone Homes in Lake County. Owner Dennis Koury is using his brother Wayne Koury’s (founder of Frank and Pauly’s) recipes. They take care to use fresh ingredients and import quality pasta and cheese from Italy. When I heard the news that Frank and Pauly’s was now in Mentor I knew this would be the perfect venue for my new dining out group and quickly scheduled a dinner. I apologize for the darkness of the photos, but I didn’t want to detract from the other diners’ enjoyment by turning on my flash.

The Sawyer House is a gorgeous venue. We were immediately blown away by the sumptuous woodwork and cozy dining room. We were seated at a round table, which pleased us to no end because it allowed us all to talk with everyone in the group. We started the evening off with cocktails. I am a sucker for dreamsicles, so when I saw the Orange Dreamsicle on the menu I was thrilled. It was a delicious cocktail. I then switched to red wine with dinner, but a cocktail was the perfect way to take the edge off the day.

The group ordered several appetizers for the table to share. The bruschetta was delicious (unfortunately I wasn’t able to photograph it). The Roma tomatoes were plump and luscious, the crostini bread was soft and had a good bite to it, and the balsamic dressing was really delicious. I can’t wait to go back and order it again. We also split several grilled flatbreads, featuring arugula, Ohio Creamery goat cheese, lemon, garlic and oil. The arugula was a bit dry for my taste (being grilled), but the goat cheese paired really well with the arugula and the lemon and garlic kicked it up a notch.

We also ordered two family style salads to share. The Frank & Pauly’s salad with mixed greens, crispy prosciutto, crumbled gorgonzola and red onions did not disappoint. It was very flavorful and just as good as I remembered it. The second salad, the cranberry walnut salad, was my favorite of the two though. It featured mixed greens, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, croutons, green onions, and creamy goat cheese and was topped with a delicious raspberry vinaigrette.

I ordered the spaghetti and meat sauce. The pasta was al dente, and the meat sauce was very flavorful. I liked it, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. I love a good Bolognese, but I have very high standards. No meat sauce measures up to the Bolognese I had at a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place down in Cincinnati. It probably isn’t fair to compare, but that’s what diners do all the time. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very tasty meat sauce of fresh ground beef, veal, pork and is definitely worth ordering. That said, the addition of hunks of crispy prosciutto might kick this meat sauce up a notch.

When I go back to Frank & Pauly’s I will definitely order the lasagna, because both people at our table adored their meal. Everyone else was very pleased with their entrees, from the fuscilli vegetable ricotta sauce, mostaccioli eggplant marinara, eggplant parmesan (R. ate the entire entree so it must have been good), veal piccata, and the stuffed shrimp scampi, which were the special that night.

The service at Frank & Pauly’s was impeccable. Our waitress was very attentive and had no problems with separate checks for our table of ten. The timing of the food was perfect, and she even waited to put our entree orders in to allow one of our latecomers to eat with the group (we had just finished ordering when she arrived). Our water glasses were topped up several times, and everyone was very friendly. I can’t wait to go back to this little gem in Lake County. It is well worth the drive! Everyone at my table agreed.

Contact info:

Frank & Pauly’s
at “The Sawyer House”
9470 Mentor Ave, Mentor Ohio
(440) 392-9500

Inn on Coventry

The Inn on Coventry has been in business since 1981. This “mom-and-mom restaurant” has been feeding hungry college students and locals ever since. The matriarch died in 2010 (she was 96), and there is commemorative plaque hanging above the cash register. Word to the wise: since it is so popular it is always crowded on the weekends. Expect a wait. Also, they won’t seat you until everyone in your party is there. Despite what the website claims it is not open on Friday evening. I walked there for dinner last Friday, looking forward to trying their fish fry, and was sadly disappointed. I asked my waitress this morning, and she told me they haven’t been open for dinner for about two years. I suggested they update their website.

I first came here before I lived in Cleveland Heights (invited by local friends who were in the know), and it is one of my favorite breakfast and lunch places in the area. I ordered the Swedish eggs, which are eggs scrambled with lox and cream cheese, and fell in love.  I treated myself to breakfast this morning and indulged in this favorite. The saltiness of the lox is balanced by the creamy chunks of cream cheese. I make this at home now, but I add chopped spinach. The dish is served with your choice of grits or home fries and toast. I chose the home fries and Jewish rye (not like the marbled rye some places serve). There is no better comfort for me than starting the day off with buttered rye toast and jelly.

My second favorite breakfast offering here is the Fresh Banana Walnut French Toast. The thick slices of French toast are topped with ricottafresh sliced bananas. The flavors meld together really well, and it is simply a flavor explosion. It doesn’t get much better than this. I had a similar French toast at Deagan’s the other day, and although it was good it simply didn’t compare to Inn on Coventry’s. I ordered a side of bacon for good measure, because everything’s better with bacon.

sisterhoodInn on Coventry is also known for their Eggs Benedict and Eggs Mando – and they also offer a Veggie Mando topped with avocado instead of Canadian bacon for the vegetarians). The lemon ricotta pancakes are also divine (or any of the pancakes really… although I haven’t had the nerve to order IMG_20160303_133410the Reese Cup pancakes). If you do order the pancakes stick with one at first. The pancakes are huge and, as you can see, span the whole plate.

Although I usually order breakfast, I can also personally vouch for the sloppy joe, the Coventry Burger, and the California Club sandwich. And I am usually critical of sloppy joes that aren’t my mother’s “white trash” version that consists of a pound of ground beef, a half bottle of chili sauce bloodyand 4 oz of Velveeta (try it – you’ll love it). All of their items are made fresh and are just like Mom used to make. I intend to try as many items on their menu as I can, but it is hard when such delicious favorites are available.

They offer a full service bar if you want a mimosa or Bloody Mary. Also, one thing that simply must be mentioned is that Inn on Coventry has delicious coffee. It is a Kona blend that simply can’t be described. It is very smooth and not at all bitter. Plus, the waitresses are constantly coming around to ensure your cup is full. Come for the food, stay for the service. And don’t forget to always overtip your breakfast waitresses!

Contact info:

Inn on Coventry
2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 371-1811

Open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. (8 a.m. on Sat/Sun) to 2:45 p.m.

Bearden’s is back, baby!

Bearden’s in Rocky River is a Cleveland institution. Opened in 1948, Bearden’s is known for its bear logo, steakburgers and shakes. It closed a couple years ago when construction on Lake Road caused business to dry up. It reopened this past October. Most West Siders have a story about Bearden’s. I remember going to Bearden’s with my high school boyfriend on our first date. There was some discussion the night I went as to whether it was the original location. My friend and I remember it being much darker than it is now. I seem to remember wood paneling, and my friend Suzanne insists it was at the end of her grandmother’s street. Maybe there were two locations at one time. Who knows. In any case, the new Bearden’s is much brighter, but the iconic train with its stuffed bear conductor is still circling the dining area. Bearden’s is not fancy dining by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my fellow diners weren’t that impressed with the fare. If you are used to burgers at B Spot, Greenhouse Tavern or Whitey’s this place may not be for you. However, if you like Steak and Shake you’ll feel right at home. Kids adore it and it is good for a stroll down memory lane, eliciting the old 1950s diner vibe.

When I mentioned on Facebook that I would be dining at Bearden’s several of my friends mentioned the peanutburger, so of course I had to try it. I would have never thought creamy peanut butter spread on a burger would be tasty, but it wasn’t bad. If I were to go there again I would definitely order bacon with the burger. The chocolate milkshake was definitely a nice accompaniment to the peanutburger for this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup fan. Everyone at our table shared sides of golden fries and thick onion rings. My fries were quite tasty, with just the right amount of salt. The onion rings are fresh and not frozen. One side of fries or onion rings can easily be shared by two or three people.

The Plain Dealer’s Friday! magazine recently reviewed Bearden’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was there the night after we were. I distinctly remember the valentines on the windows too.

I was particularly thrilled to see that they offer birch beer on tap in the self-serve soda fountain. It’s one of my all-time favorite drinks from childhood, and you can’t find it everywhere.

Contact info:

Bearden’s
19985 Lake Road
Rocky River, OH 44116
(440) 331-7850

Istanbul Grill

in-memoriam-graphic

If you are looking for a good Mediterranean restaurant, you can’t go wrong with the Istanbul Grill in Tremont. The Istanbul Grill was established in 2010 in the historic Tremont neighborhood at the south end of Professor, near the St. Teodosious Church and Lucky’s Cafe. The food is fresh and very flavorful.

As we walked in the door we were greeted enthusiastically and shown to our tables. Our group of 20 was seated at three separate tables, one of which was in an alcove on the upper floor, but no one cared after the food came out. The service was attentive, and the food was delicious. The atmosphere in the restaurant was simple, clean, and modern yet warm. I have heard wonderful things about the patio, although I haven’t had a chance to check it out.

I like to start my meal off with a beverage (in the case of Turkish cuisine I like to enjoy an apple tea), and the Istanbul Grill didn’t disappoint. This fruity flavored delight is much more popular in the Turkish culture than traditional tea and coffee. In fact it is regarded as the national soft drink of Turkey.

My friend is a vegetarian, so we ordered several vegetarian appetizers. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph the baba gannush (chargrilled eggplant pureed with olive oil, lemon and garlic) before she dug in. The baba was fresh and delicious. You could taste that it was freshly prepared on site. The other appetizer – the soslu patlican (pictured to the left) – featured chopped eggplant cooked in a moderately spicy sauce of fresh tomato, green pepper, garlic, onions and parsley) was also quite fresh. Of the two I preferred the baba, but I am not a huge eggplant fan.

When it comes to Turkish food, my entree of choice is usually the Chicken Adana, although Doner Kebab is a close second. I ordered the Adana kebab (ground chicken and beef grilled on skewers), which was flavorful, and the meat was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside, yet juicy from the inside, seasoned to perfection. The rice was flaky and a nice complement to the meat. Since I have a dairy allergy I did not order the yogurt kebabs, although several people did and raved about them.

My friend ordered the Sigara Börek on Mediterranean Salad. The “cigars” filled with feta cheese and parsley were artfully placed over the bed of greens, and she loved her choice.

No meal is complete without dessert, and the Istanbul Grill didn’t disappoint. Our group tends to order several desserts and shares them. In this case, the baklava was fresh and tender, and the Kadayif (shredded pastry dough stuffed with walnuts, baked, and topped with
chopped pistachios) was a delight. And of course no meal is complete without a Turkish coffee.

The members of my dining out group couldn’t wait to go back, and have mentioned it several times since our meal. The vegetarians in the group were especially pleased with their meals. If you are looking for an affordable yet tasty meal, you can’t go wrong with the Istanbul Grill in Tremont.

Contact info:

Istanbul Grill
2505 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 298-4450

Mekong River

in-memoriam-graphic

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop ignoring this blog, so I intend to post at least one post a month. Let’s see if I can do better than last time. If I don’t, feel free to get on my case.

Tangerine Tilapia

I have been hearing about Mekong River for several years now and finally got a chance to check them out. I initially stopped by on a whim because I was craving fish, so I whipped out my smartphone, googled them while in the Beachwood library parking lot and called my carryout order in. I was surprised to find this place practically empty when I got there, although there was another woman waiting for her carryout order as well. She told me she and her husband get take-out from Mekong every week and recommended I try the Crystal Noodle Soup.

Crystal Noodle Soup

I was not disappointed. I had ordered the Cambodian eggrolls and Tangerine Tilapia and liked it so much that I brought my mother there the next night to try the tilapia as well. She has dietary restrictions and I knew it would be perfect for her. She loved it too. It is bright and fresh and served with steamed broccoli. The fish is lightly fried and flaky and tender, and the tangerine is served in slices on top of the fish. I have noted that the in-house servings are larger than the carryout servings, so if you are hungry try to eat there.

I also tried the Crystal Noodle Soup the second night, and it was delicious. The broth was light, and the cabbage was not overcooked and had a good bite to it. The pork was cooked perfectly, and the fresh cilantro on top really made the soup excel.

Thai Curry Puffs

Several tips on Foursquare recommend the Thai Curry Puffs, and they are not wrong! The curry puffs are amazingly light and flavorful. I could easily eat these and the tilapia for the rest of my life and be blissfully happy.

Cambodian Crepe

One thing to note about Mekong River is that the food is outstanding, but the service is lacking. I have heard several stories of bad service here, and witnessed it myself when my dining out group met there last week. One of my members may or may not have ordered the Tangerine Duck instead of the tilapia. I didn’t hear him order, so I don’t know if he made the mistake or the waiter did. However, the waiter’s response was unbelievably rude. He got upset with us, gave the tilapia to my friend, and then no longer came out to serve us. I was left sitting there with no meal for about five minutes. The owner then came out asking which of us had ordered the duck and I responded that none of us had. The kitchen then proceeded to cook another tilapia for me, which I was given shortly before everyone was finished with their meals. Luckily everyone in our group shares their meals, so I did not go hungry and ended up boxing almost the entire entree to take home.

Red Tom Kha Kai

We also had to ask for the Cambodian crepe after a while, because I was not the only person without her meal. I tried the crepe as well. The crepe is an egg crepe, but it could have been more flavorful. I took a Viking Cooking School class on Vietnamese cooking, and the crepe we cooked there was much more flavorful. The crepe here seemed more like an omelette than a crepe.

One thing I should note is that the place is freezing (especially the bathroom), so dress warmly in the winter. Or order tea and a soup to start to warm yourself up! The temperature of the restaurant and the service aren’t going to stop me from frequenting there, but I certainly won’t go there if I am in a hurry! Nor will I go there again with a large group.

Contact info:

Mekong River
1918 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118-2125
(216) 371-9575